Sperm are tiny microscopic tadpole-shaped creatures that carry chromosomes and can fertilize an egg to create a baby. They live for about five days inside a woman’s reproductive tract after being ejaculated from the penis into her cervical mucus.

Outside the body, sperm exposed to air or deposited on clothing, bed linens or toilet seats die very quickly. Their survival depends on ideal conditions, such as fertile cervical mucus.

How Long Can Sperm Last in the Vagina?

During sexual arousal, millions of sperm mix with seminal fluid and are released through the vas deferens. This semen enters the female reproductive tract, where it travels to the uterus and cervix.

Once sperm reach the uterus, they can survive for up to five days. The sperm that are most healthy and motile will make it to the egg, where they can fertilize it. This is why many couples have children after sex that takes place in the days leading up to and during ovulation.

Unfortunately, most sperm don’t make it to the egg. It is estimated that just one in 100 million sperm discharged during ejaculation will ever reach the egg. The journey is long and full of obstacles, and many sperm die along the way.

Outside of the body, sperm can survive for up to 30 minutes depending on conditions. However, they are very susceptible to their environment and will die if exposed to dry surfaces or hot temperatures. For example, sperm in a hot tub or bath will only live for a few seconds as the steamy water and chemicals are toxic to them.

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In contrast, sperm in the vagina can survive for up to five days due to the moist and warm environment. In addition, sperm can survive for a few days after sex because they can travel from the vagina to the uterus through the cervical secretions and fallopian tubes.

The Fertile Window

The fertile window is a period of time during which conception can occur. It encompasses the six days leading up to and including the day of ovulation, which happens in the middle of the menstrual cycle. During this time, the egg from the ovaries can be fertilized by sperm.

Sperm can survive for up to five days inside a woman’s body. This is because the cervical mucus and crypts protect them from drying out. Outside of the body, sperm can only survive for a few hours, depending on where they land. For example, sperm that land on dry surfaces like a bath or hot tub will die quickly. In contrast, sperm that make their way through the vagina’s acidic environment can survive for up to five days.

In addition, a woman’s hormone levels are at their highest during the Fertile Window. This means the vaginal mucus is thicker and slippier, making it easier for sperm to travel to the egg in the fallopian tubes.

As a result, you are most likely to get pregnant during this time. If you are trying to conceive, it is recommended that you use a fertility monitor to track your ovulation cycle and take advantage of the Fertile Window. You can also look for signs of ovulation, such as increased cervical fluid or cloudy discharge, by tracking your menstrual cycle with a chart.

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Cervical Mucus

Cervical mucus (also called cervical fluid) is secreted by the cervix. The amount and consistency of the mucus changes throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle due to hormone fluctuations. It’s important to know that cervical mucus reveals a lot about where you are in your cycle and can be used to predict ovulation.

Often described as a clear liquid that resembles raw egg whites, fertile cervical mucus is slippery and stretchy, making it the most hospitable environment for sperm to travel through to meet an egg. It’s important to assess the type of cervical mucus and the day it appears by rubbing a finger in it, gently pushing and pulling on it between your thumb and index finger. The texture, stickiness or tackyness of the mucus, and its color can help you identify its type.

The most common types of cervical mucus are S for sticky, C for creamy, W for wet, and E for egg white cervical mucus, or EWCM. Usually, women produce more EWCM when they are about to ovulate. This is the most fertile time of the month.

It may take some practice to learn how to identify the different cervical mucus, especially after sexual arousal or intercourse, but it’s a great tool to have if you want to try to get pregnant. Just make sure that you don’t try to interpret the cervical mucus when it is cloudy, sticky or dry, as these aren’t fertile days.

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Crypts

Sperm survive inside the woman’s body for up to five days after ejaculation. But this doesn’t mean they can survive on a woman’s skin or outside her body, as soon as semen dries on the surface it dies and is no longer able to fertilise an egg.

During sexual activity millions of sperm mix with seminal fluid to create ejaculatory fluid which is then released down the vas deferens to the penis. This journey takes less than an hour but it’s not enough time to reach the egg for fertilization, so most sperm die on their way.

The cervical mucus that guards the entrance to the uterus becomes thinner and more clear during ovulation, providing an ideal environment for sperm survival. Cervical ‘crypts’, which are small channels off the cervical canal, also act as temporary storage areas for sperm. These cleverly release sperm over time to increase that ‘fertile window’, increasing the chance of conception.

Having sex within the five day window prior to ovulation is the most likely way to get pregnant, but it’s not guaranteed, especially if you’re a woman who has irregular ovulation. It’s worth knowing how long sperm can last in the vagina so you can concentrate your efforts on the most fertile days. But don’t forget that even then it’s rare for sperm to successfully reach an egg and result in pregnancy.